7- 10 August 21

We carried on walking along the rice fields, but luckily with an overcast sky. It was hot with a high humidity level, but at least the sun wasn’t persistent over us. Italy was entering a heatwave with a constant warning to avoid the hottest hours of the day. So we had a short day, walking only 17 k. Our bodies were still recovering, and the idea of pushing too far wasn’t an option.

Walking a shorter length allows enjoying the landscape more. There is no pressure of how many kilometres are left in front of us, and there is more time to stop observing what is at hand.

An intricate network of channels, design to flood the paddy, surround the rice fields. Mosquitoes were always stalking us, ready to attack when we stopped for a second. So Carlos and I were constantly spraying our bodies with tropical Autan (anti mosquitoes brand very popular in Italy), which we carried as our best companion.

We stopped to enjoy some stoke like birds with strange long black beaks, a kind of bird I didn’t know existed in Italy and which, into my imagination, belongs only to other exotic places.

Although I grew up on the east side of the Italian plains, finding myself walking in this extremely flat land produced a very unsettling feeling. Everything was so uniform and levelled, and although I was expecting to see further, the bells towers of the nearby towns appeared at the horizon just when a few kilometres away. The flatness of the land felt intense, as if the reverberation of my thoughts travelled away undisturbed, merging with the landscape, creating a melting pot of sensations, perturbing the calmness of the environment. The stillness of the views accompanied by the heat, soon turned into a tornado of emotions. Only Carlos’s distance presence, which, walking 100 meters in front of me with his orange hiking trolley, managed to bring it back under control.

Soon after, we arrived in a little town where we found a bench deliberately created for the pilgrims walking the Via Francigena. We sat, and a nice gentleman, living nearby, asked if we would have liked an ice lolly. Full of joy, we couldn’t refuse.

Meanwhile a little visitor was attracted by the hiking trolley.

Not far after, we arrived in the town of Mortara, where we found accommodation in an unusual place.

Abbey of Sant’ Albino was founded in the 5th century, and it is a very nice church/monastery complex currently run by an apparently scary lady with a big heart. La Signora Franca, her name, entertained us after dinner with her pilgrims’ stories.

That night we met two other walkers, Davide and Marco, who walked with us on and off until Piacenza.

We walked another day through rice fields, although the landscape started changing. The flatness of the plains was still there, but we were getting closer to the Po river. The small irrigation channels became larger, and our way followed the banks of those small rivers. The moving water brought an internal sense of peace. The sun shined over the creases of the water producing a mesmerising dance of lights. We started walking further away, our bodies were now fully recovered, and when we got into the town of Pavia, we managed to meet up again with Massimo, who needed a day off to sort a few things out.

The weather was now scorching hot. Therefore we decided to get up very early in the morning. So we left Pavia at the crack of dawn in order to grind as many kilometres as possible before the extreme heat. We walked the streets of Pavia with virtually no one around. It is always magical the feel of owning the urban environment. There every footstep resonates along the walls of this medieval city, away from the chaotic movement of people and vehicles.

By 9 am, we walked over 20 k when we arrived at the town of Belgioioso, known as the countryside residence of the Visconti’s family first, and then the successors Sforza’s.

Massimo and his Martino framed by the Belgioioso castle

Massimo and Alessio are 2 fund-raisers, walking 4000 k to support the cystic fibrosis cause. They both walk with the mascots Martino and Martina (Martin Pescatore, the Italian name of kingfisher) symbol used by the Italian CF associations meaning strength and tenacity. It is possible to support their cause at the following link: Vivi Ogni Respiro.

After a few photos at the castle and the usual coffee to wake us up, we carried on walking, aiming to finish the last 11 k left to reach our destination Santa Caterina e Bissone. After a few telephone calls, we managed to find a place where to stay for the night. The local authority agreed to give us hospitality; they offered us to stay at the kindergarten, now empty for the summer holidays. This was our first experience of been accommodated into a school.

But, the biggest surprise of all came when my two cousins Pino and Rino, came from Milan to meet us.